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We often think of moose and wolf as being Isle Royale’s constants. But historically the dominant large mammals were Canada lynx and woodland caribou. Evidence from archaeological records indicates that these two species were present on the island for 3,500 years.
The first half of the 20th century was a time of dramatic flux in the Isle Royale mammal community. Moose, wolf, and fox moved in. Coyote came for a brief stay. Caribou and lynx disappeared.
What changed for lynx?
While the shifting mammal community may have contributed to lynx’s disappearance, the primary cause was almost certainly human over-harvest. Forty-eight lynx were harvested in 1903-04, sixty-seven in 1916-17, and twenty-five in the 1930s.
Though lynx were basically gone from the island by the 1930s, new immigrants, that crossed ice bridges from Canada, have been seen on the island periodically. The most recent sighting was of a single individual in 1980.
Gone, but not forgotten. And maybe, just maybe, someday we will spy the track of the cat on island trails once more.